Ostrich Eggs Incubating
Hatching The Eggs

This article was written by Glinda Cunningham for the World Ostrich Association Conference in October of 2005 in Madrid Spain.

Contract or Custom Hatching and Chick Rearing

by Glinda Cunningham, American Ostrich Association - United States of America

Introduction: Started in the ostrich business in 1991 with a pair of 18 month olds, a pair of 12 month olds, and four six month olds. We continued to buy breeders and chicks as they became available until we had 300 breeder aged ostrich at one point. We normally had a breeding flock of seventy until the business slowed down in 2000.

I have been active in the West Texas Ostrich Association, the Texas Ostrich Association, and the American Ostrich Association since starting in this business. I have been an officer or board member in at least one of these associations since 1995, sometimes serving in two each year. I am currently the secretary/treasure of the American Ostrich Association.

I feel like I have worked almost every aspect of the ostrich industry. We have raised chicks, exported chicks and eggs, owned and operated a meat processing plant, had an ostrich meat company, prepared and sold green hides and finished tanned hides.

Custom Hatching & Chick Rearing

In all businesses, there are decisions to be made which have legal and ethical considerations. All decisions have consequences which can be positive or negative no matter how careful you try to be. We definitely need to realize that both parties in a contract or custom hatching situation have not only legal but also ethical obligation to each other.

Get everything in writing. Some common areas to consider:

  • Who is responsible for what? Put in writing.
  • Are records going to be provided and on what schedule?
  • Who is responsible for veterinarian costs & feed costs?
  • Who decides to call a veterinarian?
  • When do the chicks go back to the owner?
  • Will there be a set fee for hatching or a percentage of the hatch?
  • If for a fee, is it per egg or live chick?
  • Is there a charge for incubating an infertile egg?
  • Is there a penalty for picking up chicks later than arranged?
  • If hatching for a percentage, when are the chicks divided?
  • Dates to stop setting & schedules to set & hatch
  • Potential Problems-Whose problem & what resolutions:
    • Electricity / incubator failure
    • More eggs than incubator will hold
    • Large number of problem eggs ( wet, bacteria, early dead, late dead, infertile, etc)
    • Recurring problems with spradled legs, turned legs, yolk sacs, etc.
    • Many chicks die (from predators, disease, inclement weather, etc.)

There are certain guidelines the hatcher needs to set with the egg provider:

  • Condition of the breeder flock
  • Breeder institution
  • Egg handling/collection technique
  • Egg cleaning technique
  • Egg storage parameters 55 to 65F / 12.8 to 18.3C
  • Length of storage
  • When to pull infertiles
  • What to do with smelly eggs / infertiles
  • Egg Identification
  • Pay in a timely manner as required by contract

There are certain guidelines the egg provider needs to expect from the hatcher:

  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Incubation and hatching facility
    • Cleanliness
    • Humidity and Temperature monitored 95 to 98 F/35 to 36.5C
    • Incubation knowledge
  • Chick rearing facilities
    • Space requirements
    • Cleanliness
    • Temperature and ventilation
    • Secure from predators
    • Shelter from severe weather
  • Nutrition
    • Enough feeding areas
    • Well balanced feed
    • Plenty of available clean water
  • Chick identification
  • Good record keeping
  • Growth Weight
    • Genetic potential
    • Feed quality and feeding rate
    • Health Status of flock
    • Environment (Temperature, wind speed, chill factor, rain, humidity, noise)
    • Management

When a written contract is used, and it is strongly recommended, try to have a simple mediation clause included. If you have problems, the hatcher and breeder should then participate in a mediation session with a third party. This could provide a resolution with no lawsuits involved. Always understand all obligations that are required from both sides and try to have everything in writing. This is the best protection for all involved. Knowledge of the ostrich hatching operation should be a requirement of both sides.

We are doing something a little different in Texas. The past few years, the prices we were offered for slaughter ostrich had dropped so drastically that most ostrich breeders had stopped raising chicks and decreased the size of their breeder flocks. Most of us were stuck with large flocks of yearlings that soon became breeder aged birds. The feed costs were certainly taking a bite out of our checkbooks. We were forced to sell these animals at a loss just to stop the feed bills.

I started selling eggs and chicks in the foreign market, but still had to decrease the size of my breeder flock. Many other ostrich breeders in the US did the same thing. Most people just took their losses and got out of the business.

Now that the demand for meat has increased and processors are looking for yearlings and paying enough to the breeders to make a profit. We all have fewer breeders so we have joined forces to get the ostrich population back up in Texas. My husband and I have a 1500 acre ranch where we raise cattle, horses, and ostrich. I have N'Kobi and Natureform incubators and fairly large chick rearing facilities. I partnered with John Hartwell that owns and operates a large farm in far North Texas. He grows corn, wheat, and alfalfa and can basically feed lot ostrich in his fields and pens. We are buying pre-incubated /hot eggs and fresh eggs to hatch and incubate at my ranch in Ranger from breeders all over Texas that are not raising chicks. I raise them until they reach 80 to 100 pounds and then we trailer them to Dalhart to finish the grow out. We are able to cut grow out costs with the farming aspect in Dalhart.

I have had my share of problems with this undertaking. The weather in Texas has been very strange this year. It was extremely wet the first part of the year when the hens normally start to lay eggs. Then when the rain stopped, it totally stopped. We had three inches of snow on Easter morning, March 27th. The wind has played a very large part in our egg production. Those males just do not like to be blown over backwards in high winds! Our fertility and egg numbers were less than of what we had in past years.

We were also having problems with the pre-incubated eggs. Some folks were not using dehumidifiers and we were not getting the weight loss on the larger eggs. Chicks were pipping that still had yolk sacs out and usually broke the sacs during their struggle to get out of the egg. This was something I had not seen during the past. We had several chicks with one eye. After talking with everyone, the problems decreased.

John and I have a contract for the yearlings that we hope will encourage other ostrich breeders to raise chicks in the coming years. The United States once had a very large population of ostrich and we are hoping to get that back in the very near future. It does not take long to restock a ranch with ostrich as most of you know. The meat has finally started to get popular in the United States and I hope it continues to grow in popularity all over the world.

The ostrich industry is very exciting to me and I dearly love working with these animals. We all need to encourage research that will help with identifying disease and other problems with ostrich and how to properly handle these problems. We need to have standards for management, feed and slaughter. One thing we can do now is to share our experiences and successes with other breeders no matter where we live. By working together we will all learn from each other and the ostrich industry will be the better for it.

Please feel free to contact the AOA with any questions you might have.

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